This Federal Bill Could Protect Underage Models

Photo: REX Shutterstock.
New steps to protect very young models may soon be put into place: New York Congresswoman Grace Meng has introduced a federal bill to the House of Representatives that would ensure safer professional experiences for underage performers, including models that are younger than 16 years old.

The bill, entitled the Child Performers Protection Act of 2015, would be the first federal law protecting child performers and models, though certain states already have legislation that serves these vulnerable young professionals. The issue first hit Meng's radar two years ago, via the bipartisan child safety caucus she established.

If passed, the bill would help clearly define young models' salary minimums and work hours. It would also ensure that these minors be paid with money, which is a perfectly acceptable expectation: "Models could no longer be paid in clothes, for example," The New York Times explains. The bill also aims to address (and avoid) emotional and physical violations by providing "private recourse for sexual harassment," The Times reports.

Model safety and rights has been an issue for years, with organizations like Model Alliance working to protect a fashion industry demographic that's often emotionally and financially preyed upon. But it feels timelier than ever for legislation to be pushed through, thanks to a handful of extremely young girls cropping up in the industry.

In July, a 14-year-old Israeli girl, Sofia Mechetner, was hand-plucked by Raf Simons to walk in (and close, no less) Dior's Couture show. That same month, Cindy Crawford's 13-year-old daughter, Kaia Gerber, was featured in a decidedly grown-up CR Fashion Book spread.

Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis' 16-year-old daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, was tapped as an ambassador and model for Chanel's eyewear range in September (she'd already made a cameo at the house's casino-themed Couture show in July). Granted, it's probably safe to assume that very young models with very famous parents are well supervised and protected in their fashion pursuits already. That doesn't make it any less worthwhile a fight, and a means of protecting talents with total rags-to-riches tales, a.k.a. that controversial Cinderella story trope behind new names like Mechetner.

The bill is currently with the Committee on Education and the Work Force, and it could be a while before it even gets voted on. But it's a promising indicator that underage models' rights are finally being taken seriously — and that's especially important in an industry that puts such incredible value (and pressure) on youth.
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